Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway

E.L. Ahrons Locomotive and train working in the latter part of the nineteenth century
originally published in Rly Mag., 1926 and reprinted by Heffer.

The Eastern and Midlands Railway, which from 1889 to 1893 was taken over by the Midland and the Great Northern Railways, itself dates back only to January, 1883, when it was formed by the amalgamation of a number of small local railways in Norfolk, some of which apparently began in a field at the back of nowhere and ended in another field a long way from anywhere else. After the amalgamation of the various local railways, the line had a sort of distant and miniature resemblance to the American "Pennsylvania Railroad," in that there was a sharp line of demarcation between "Lines East" and "Lines West," the dividing line, corresponding to Pittsburgh, being the ancient but more classic borough of King's Lynn.

The "Lines West," though owned by the Eastern and Midlands Company, were not worked by it, but were handed over to the tender and fostering care of the Midland and the Great Northern railways. These lines consisted of the Bourne and Lynn section, and the Peterborough, Wisbech and Sutton Bridge section, which joined the former at Sutton Bridge.

The Peterborough, Wisbech and Sutton Bridge line, which makes a junction with the Midland about 60 chains north of Peterborough station, was always worked by the later company, whose trains went forward to Lynn. Two Midland 2-4-0 passenger engines of the 1070-1079 class and two or three double-framed goods engines were stationed at Lynn for this traffic.

The Bourne and Lynn section formed a sort of joint railway worked by both the Great Northen and Midland companies, though between Sutton Bridge and Bourne practically all the trains were worked by the Great Northern, with the exception of one or two cattle trains per week destined for Leicester, which were worked by Midland goods engines to Bourne, and taken on thence to Essendine and Stamford by Great Northern engines. At Stamford they were again handed over to the Midland.

At no principal town had the Eastern and Midland Railway its own station. Access to Lynn from the "Lines West" was obtained over a branch from a point near the present station of South Lynn to the Great Eastern station at King's Lynn. At Peterborough the Midland platform provided the necessary accommodation, and both Bourne and Spalding were Great Northern stations. Access to Spalding was only possible by means of double V-reversing curves, and the present avoiding line was a product of much later date.

But all this, as far as the "Lines West" were concerned, was a matter of hardly any consequence, for beyond lending its name as the owner of the lines, the Eastern and Midlands slept with the soundness of a sleeping partner as far as working was concerned, and woke up only when any money was due. In its latter days it certainly worked one train each way, a Cromer express, between Lynn and Peterborough during the summer season only, with its own engines, and this was about all that was seen of the old East and Midlands on the lines west of Lynn.

Lynn itself was a natural obstacle similar to Spalding, and effectually cut off the, "Lines West" from the "Lines East." The Midland and the Great Northern trains from Peterborough or Spalding came in via the Great Eastern line, Lynn being a terminal station. The Eastern and Midlands trains for the "east" lines departed from Lynn over the Great Eastern Hunstanton line, and then switched off in a south-easterly direction to Bawsey sidings, where they reached the present main line.

The Midland, in 1880, worked four stopping trains daily each way between Peterborough and Lynn, and the Great Northern worked a few "accommodation trains," to use an American expression, on the lines to Spalding and Bourne.

The lines east of Lynn were entirely in the hands of the owning company. The first portion consisted of the old Lynn and Fakenham Railway, which began at a junction with the Great Eastern Hunstanton line at Gaywood and then disappeared into the "back of beyond" in the county of Norfolk. Later on somebody discovered the tail of this line wagging amongst the poppy fields, miles from anywhere, and hitched a few pieces on to it, which eventually, in 1882, terminated at Norwich. These extensions ran from Fakenham through Melton Constable. If you search a Bradshaw of 1880 for Melton Constable you won't find much for your pains, for it was not there. Now it is the centre of the engineering activity of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway.

There was also another line which started from Yarmouth, and eventually called itself the Yarmouth and North Norfolk Railway. It made a bold push into the wilds of Norfolk, and then got lost somewhere in the vicinity of North Walsham. It was not until 1883, after the various small companies had amalgamated as the Eastern and Midlands, that the connecting line from North Walsham to Melton Constable was made. The Cromer branch from Melton Constable was finally completed in 1887.

Now that the subject of locomotives comes under consideration, the reader will begin to understand why the lines west of Lynn were worked by other companies. In 1883, at the date of amalgamation, there were only 26 engines, although the new Eastern and Midlands Company owned something like 140 miles of railway, nearly all of which was single line. A total of 26 engines does not go very far towards the provision of anything but an extremely "thin" train service. However; by keeping its own stock east of Lynn, the company made the best of matters.

But the locomotives themselves formed the quaintest assortment that ever adorned a railway of this length. There were a good many shapes, but only about one size, which fitted the railway after the manner of a 57/8 hat on a 14-in. foot.

This collection had been gathered together through the united efforts of the directors and officials of the Lynn and Fakenham and the Yarmouth and North Norfolk Railways, who possibly bought some of them at a "jumble sale." Exception must be made of four fast passenger engines which started work on the Lynn and Fakenham Railway about 12 months before the amalgamated lines became the Eastern and Midlands Railway.

The passenger locomotive stock consisted of seven small 4--4-0 side-tank engines built by Hudswell, Clarke & Co., of Leeds, between 1878 and 1881. The outside cylinders were 15 in. by 20 in., except the two earliest, which had 14 in. by 20 in. cylinders. The four coupled wheels were 4ft. 7½ in. diameter, the bogie wheels 2 ft. 5½ in. diameter and the heating surface was 566 sq. ft. with a grate area of 9 sq. ft. In spite of their small size they were well-built, excellent little engines. They worked passenger trains between Lynn and Fakenham, sometimes running two double trips per day between Yarmouth and North Walsham. Towards the end of the century, when the railway was the joint property of the Midland and Great Northern, these little engines worked branch passenger trains at Lynn, on the Bourne and Spalding section, where Nos. 19 and 20 were generally to be seen, and the Mundesley-on-Sea branch, which for a long time was worked by No.9. The other four engines of this class bore Eastern and Midlands numbers 8,10,40 and 41.

There were five 0-6-0 saddle-tank engines with outside cylinders 14 in. by 20 in. and coupled wheels varying from 3 ft. 4 in. to 3 ft. 9 in. diameter, which for a time had the honour of conducting most of the goods traffic or of working mixed trains. Although anything but suited for the traffic they also did their share of passenger work at the Yarmouth end. Finally, there were eight 0-6-0 side-tank engines which had been built in 1873-74 by Sharp, Stewart and Co. for the Cornwall Minerals Railway, and came into the market at the psychological moment when locomotives were wanted for the lines in Norfolk.

These engines had 3 ft. 6 in. coupled wheels, outside cylinders 16¼ in. by 20 in. and carried 140 lb. pressure. The tanks had a capacity of only 780 gallons, and therefore Sharp, Stewart and Co. received orders to fit them with four-wheeled tenders, to carry water in addition to the engine side tanks. On the Eastern and Midland Railway these engines were numbered 1 to 3, 11 to 14 and 18.

With the addition of two diminutive four-wheeled contractors' engines, the above 22 engines formed the complete stock until early in 1882, and it may be noted that there was no engine on the line with driving wheels larger than 4 ft. 7½ in. For main-line passenger traffic such engines were too small, and at the end of 1881 there appeared the first four of a series of handsome 4-4-0 engines which were built by Beyer, Peacock and Co. The first four (Nos. 21 to 24) were delivered to the Lynn and Fakenham Railway and the later engines, Nos. 25 to 35, built from 1883 to 1888, to the Eastern and Midlands. The outside cylinders were 17 in. by 24 in., coupled wheels 6 ft. diameter, total heating surface 1,083 sq. ft., and the total weight in working order nearly 38¾ tons.

There were also two 2-4-0 passenger engines, Nos. 42 and 43, of the Allan "Crewe" type which were purchased in 1883 from the London and North Western Railway. These had 5 ft. 1 in. coupled wheels and 17 in. by 20 in. cylinders, and had originally been Lancaster and Carlisle engines. One of them, London and North Western Railway 1112, I remember very well on the Tebay and Ingleton branch early in 1883, a few months before it was sold to the Eastern and Midlands Railway.

The bulk of the passenger trains between Lynn and Norwich, and between Melton Constable and Yarmouth were, of course, worked by the 4-4-0 engines 21 to 35, These engines also worked the former Cromer express for a short period between Lynn and Peterborough.

When further passenger engines were required in 1890-91, Mr. Marriott, M.Inst.C.E., who then, as now, had charge of the locomotive and engineering departments, decided upon the metamorphosis of some of the 0-6-0 tank engines which had come from the Cornwall Minerals Railway. It was certainly a unique reconstruction to convert these engines into 2-4-0 passenger engines. The 16¼ by 20 in. outside cylinders were retained, and four coupled wheels, 4 ft. 7 in. diameter were substituted for the former 3 ft. 6 in. wheels, but the same leading wheels were retained. To accommodate the larger wheels the frames were cut out and strengthened by a plate riveted inside.

The reason which induced Mr. Marriott to convert these engines was that the small 3 ft. 6 in. wheels of the original engines were quite unsuitable for main-line work, which consisted principally of fast and highly competitive cattle and fish traffic. As the engines were requiring heavy repairs it was decided to attempt to make serviceable locomotives of them, such as could be used for both passenger and goods traffic. The original engines caused many delays owing to their small wheels, and had often to be shunted for hours into sidings for other trains to pass them. Of the eight engines of this class, No. 18 was the first to be altered, and was followed by Nos. 3, 13 and 14. A full account of these transformed engines was given in The Engineer of October 31st, 1890.

A short but very important addition to the Eastern and Midlands Railway was constructed in 1884-45, and was opened in January 1886. This was a straight loop line from South Lynn to Bawsey sidings. Hitherto there had been no connection by means of the company's own road between the "Lines West" and "Lines East" of Lynn. All trains, passenger and goods, had to go into Lynn over the Great Eastern, and thence out again over another section of the same company's line. The new line was 4½ miles in length, and by cutting straight across country to Bawsey, shunted the town of Lynn on to a siding as far as the Eastern and Midlands was concerned. From this time all trains travelled direct between the western and the eastern divisions. A new station, South Lynn, was opened, at which main-line trains stopped, and a short branch train worked between the new station and King's Lynn. The Midland trains from Peterborough, after stopping at South Lynn, also ran through to King's Lynn. The old line from Bawsey into Lynn on the eastern side was closed. The new loop became of added importance after the opening of the extension to Cromer Beach in 1887, for a service of through fast trains during the summer months was instituted between King's Cross (Great Northern Railway) and Cromer via Peterborough and South Lynn. This service would have been practically useless, had the through trains been obliged to make a detour via Lynn over the rival Great Eastern metals.

The great drawback of the new Cromer line was, and is, the necessity for reversing at Melton Constable. The main line from west to east, that is to Norwich and Yarmouth, runs straight through Melton Constable, but the Cromer line leaves this station on the west side, and only attains its easternly direction after rounding a long and severe curve.

Reversing stations of this sort were a feature of the Eastern and Midlands. The awkward one at Lynn was certainly eliminated in 1886 by the direct line described above, but the one at Spalding existed until 1893.

Handicapped though it was by long stretches of single line, nevertheless the old Eastern and Midlands made plucky efforts after 1887 to compete with its powerful rival the Great Eastern. It instituted the present service of through expresses from Peterborough to Norwich and Cromer, though, strictly speaking, these improved services date from the taking over of the lines west of Lynn by the Midland and Great Northern companies.

The formation of the present joint line was completed in two instalments. An agreement was drawn up between the Eastern and Midland Company and the Midland Railway for the sale to the latter railway of the Peterborough and Sutton Bridge and the Bourne and Lynn lines. The Great Northern naturally objected to being left out, and eventually it was agreed that the Midland and Great Northern should jointly take over all the Eastern and Midlands' lines west of Lynn. Thus was formed in 1889 the first portion of the present joint railways. The working of the lines remained practically as before, in that the Midland worked most of the Peterborough-Lynn trains, and the Great Northern the trains between Bourne, Spalding and Lynn. But in addition to the four stopping trains in each direction, there were two through expresses each way between Peterborough, where they connected with Great Northern London trains, and the Norfolk coast resorts. Each of these trains was timed between Peterborough and South Lynn (37½ miles) in 63 min., with stops at Wisbech and Sutton Bridge. It should be added, in estimating the merit of these runs, that nearly the whole of the distance was at that time single line. At Murrow the line crosses the Great Northern and Great Eastern joint railway by a level crossing.

East of Lynn the Eastern and Midlands still remained and worked its lines as an independent company for a few years longer. The best train in an eastward direction in 1891 was a continuation of one of the Peterborough fast trains and left South Lynn at 1.2 p.m., arriving at Melton Constable at 2.8 p.m., distance 31¾ miles. This train had a portion for Cromer (arr. 2.47) and another for Norwich (due 2.55). The evening fast train ran from South Lynn to Fakenham, 24 miles, in 36 min. The best run on the line was done in the opposite direction by the 12.35 p.m. from Melton Constable, which covered the 31£ miles to South Lynn without stopping, in 55.min., a really good performance over single line.

The company was also enterprising enough to run fast trains between Cromer and Norwich. The. evening return express left Cromer at 7.25 p.m., Melton Constable at 8 p.m., and reached Norwich at 8.45 p.m., with one stop at Whitwell. On Mondays and Thursdays there were also through fast trains between Cromer and Yarmouth, and on Sundays there were express trains in each direction between Lynn and Yarmouth. Leaving Yarmouth at 6.45 p.m. the return train reached King?s Lynn at 9.28 p.m. with five regular and two conditional stops, the distance being 75¼ miles.

The whole of the fast train service was worked by the 4-4-0 outside cylinder engines Nos. 21 to 35.

In 1893 the whole of the eastern section was also taken over by the Midland and Great Northern Railways, and since then the allocation of the departments has been similar to that of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, in that the Midland controls the locomotive department from Derby, and the permanent way and engineering department is supervised by the Great Northern Railway. But Mr. William Marriott, M.Inst.C.E., who was engineer and locomotive superintendent of the old Eastern and Midlands Railway, still retains the local and real control over both departments.

In 1893 two other lines of great importance were opened. The first was the Midland line from Saxby to Bourne, of which the portion from Little Bytham signal-box, where the line crosses the Great Northern main line, to Bourne, a distance of five miles, was handed over to the Midland and Great Northern Joint Committee, as part of the joint lines. This line gave the Midland a direct route to the joint railways from Leicester, Birmingham and the Midlands, instead of the old roundabout journey via Stamford and Peterborough.

At the same time the Spalding reversing angle was cut out, just as the one at Lynn had been eliminated seven years before. This was done by making a new line 1¼ miles long from Cuckoo Junction, south-west of Spalding, to Welland Bank Junction, south-east of the same town. This line enabled trains to run right through from Bourne to Sutton Bridge and South Lynn.

For a time after the taking over of the eastern section, the lines had to be worked as before, but an order was given to Sharp, Stewart and Co., of Glasgow, for 26 new 4-4-0 express engines, which were delivered in 1884. These engines were of Mr. S.W. Johnson's Midland design with 6 ft. 6 in. coupled wheels, 18½ in. by 26 in. cylinders, and 160 lb. pressure. They are Nos. 1 to 7, 11 to 14, 17, 18, 36 to 39, and 42 to 50, of the Midland and Great Northern Joint line. When new they were delivered by the makers to Derby, where they ran their trial mileage on Midland local trains, after which they were sent to Melton Constable. They were painted yellow, of a similar shade to the colour of the Brighton engines, but with brown panelling and black lines.

As soon as there were sufficient engines, the locomotive working of the lines west of Lynn was taken over by the joint committee, and the Midland engines, which had been stabled at Lynn since 1866 for the Peterborough trains, were removed. Similarly the Great Northern engines disappeared from the Bourne and Lynn section.

In 1896, 15 more engines were added to the stock. Of these, Nos. 51 to 57 were 4-4-0 engines exactly similar to those previously mentioned, and were also built by Sharp, Stewart & Co. But Nos. 58 to 65, by Neilson and Co., were 0-6-0 goods engines of Mr. Johnson's standard Midland design with 5 ft. 2½ in. wheels, and 18 in. by 26 in. cy1inders. These were the first suitable goods engines to be used on the line, for hitherto the goods traffic had been worked by the four coupled passenger engines. Similar 0-6-0 goods engines Nos. 66 to 73 were built in 1899 by Kitson and Co., and the same year saw the appearance of seven more of the standard 4-4-0 express engines, Nos. 74 to 80, which were built by Beyer, Peacock & Co.

Most of the old locomotive stock, except the seven Hudswell, Clarke 4-4-0 !ank engines, and the old 4-4-0 outside cylinder passenger engines, had retired to the oblivion of the duplicate list, or had been sold or scrapped.

The principal engine sheds are at Bourne, Spalding, South Lynn, Melton Constable, Norwich and Yarmouth. There is also a small shed at Cromer. At Peterborough the Midland and Great Northern engines are stabled at the Midland shed, and at Bourne a considerable number of Midland engines are quartered in the joint shed. The Great Northern also stables a few engines in the. joint shed at Spalding.

For some years after 1893 the carriage stock was replenished with six-wheeled coaches handed over from the stocks of the two owning companies. The result was a somewhat piebald appearance of many of the trains. There were a number of the teak-panelled coaches of the Eastern and Midland Railway, but these were of a different shape from the Great Northern six-wheeled coaches with rounded roof corners. The coaches furnished by the Midland retained the well-known red colour. The only change made was to letter all of them M. and G.N. and then mix them together in the same trains.

Before the end of the century the train service on the joint railway had developed into an excellent one. The fastest train was the special express which left London (King's Cross) at 1.10 p.m. and ran during the sunimer months only. As long ago as 1898 this train left Peterborough, where it was taken over by one of the joint 4-4-0 engines of Mr. S. W. Johnson's design, at 2.47 p.m. and ran thence the 68¼ miles to Melton Constable (due 4.22 p.m.) without a stop in 95 min. This gives the excellent running average of 43.1 m.p.h. over a line most of which was single, and was probably the best "single line" running in the kingdom. There was also an up train with similar timing., The afternoon express, the 4.40 p.m. from Peterborough ran all the year round, and covered the 27½t miles to Sutton Bridge in 42 min. This train ran from South Lynn to Melton Constable (31¾ miles) in 55 min. with a one-minute stop at Fakenham Town.

The two Midland expresses from Birmingham and Leicester were worked to Bourne by Midland engines from Leicester and Birmingham sheds respectively, and then taken over by the joint committee's engines. The run from Bourne to South Lynn (34 miles) was performed in 48 min., an average speed of 42½ m.p.h.

Direct trains were run between Norwich and Cromer. The 2.20 p.m. from Norwich (City) ran through to Sheringham (arr. 3.16 p.m.) without stopping, a distance of 32½ miles. This train ran four days a week, including Sundays.

The "Joint" engines did not then work over the Midland west of Bourne. This working, by which Norwich engines have run the Midland expresses right through to Leicester, is a product of the present century.

On the other hand, Midland passenger engines did not work east of Bourne, though cattle trains were worked on certain days of the week by Midland goods engines between Bourne and Lynn.

The locomotive and carriage works are at Melton Constable, where a few new shunting engines have been built to Mr. Marriott's designs. These are 0-6-0 side-tank engines with outside cylinders 14 in. by 20 in. and 3 ft. 7 in. coupled wheels. They were constructed from 1897 onwards and originally had duplicate numbers lA, 17A etc., but afterwards became Nos. 93 to 98. There are now two others, Nos. 15 and 16, of the same class.

The only other engines to be mentioned are 12 0-6-0 engines Nos. 81 to 92. These are of Mr. Ivatt's Great Northern design (1101 class), and were built in 1900 for the latter railway by Dübs & Co. As this line then had more engines than it required, it was arranged to hand some of those under construction to the joint line. These engines have 5 ft. 1½ in. wheels and 17½ in. by 26 in. cylinders and 170 lb. pressure.